25 April 2011

On the Hustings

So I have taken a little time to consider what we've heard from the candidates in the federal election, as well as what we've seen, and I'm finally ready to say more about this democratic process in which we are involved. And what a windbag I will be today.


Let's start with getting one issue out of the way: the nature of our democracy and the current electoral system. No matter how often he repeats his "coalition" mantra in a fatherly voice, sounding almost half as bored with it as we all are, Steve-O is wrong about the nature of our democracy. While coalitions are not a common phenomenon in our country, they are a way of life in a number of other countries that none of our politicians would point to as being undemocratic.

Steve-O with a foil hat to protect against coalitions

The other thing is what happens after the election. The Governor General speaks to the sitting Prime Minister and invites him (or her…we might wish) to form a government. Generally, if the sitting Prime Minister's party has lost the election (come back with fewer seats than another party), this invitation will be refused and the Prime Minister will resign. The GG then invites the leader of the party with the most seats to form a government, which s/he tries to do, to be confirmed by a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. If the party with the most seats doesn't have a majority and can't gain the confidence of the House, the GG tries with the next party. This is our system, flawed as it is. If Steve-O doesn't understand the system or seeks to misrepresent it, maybe he shouldn't be Prime Minister at all.

Oh, and "the party that wins" doesn't mean that whoever gets the most seats, even if it isn't half and they only got 37.63% of the vote (of 58.8% of eligible voters, making it 22.13% of all Canadian voters who actually supported them), they don't get absolute control over everything. If you want total control, you will have to take a plurality of a majority of ridings (fingers crossed that this doesn't happen).


I find it fascinating that some of the parties seem to be emitting different messages to different audiences, like we don't move around or talk to one another. The Conservatives, for example, have unilingual French posters in my neighbourhood with the slogan [my translation] "Our region in power," while in the neighbouring riding, mere blocks away, all is bilingual and proclaims "Here for Canada." Do they think I don't travel to the downtown area?

The Liberals seem to be doing this, too. Web ads and TV messaging in French encouraging us to be a Canadian and a Quebecker in whatever order we want. I think that the rolling over of Pierre Trudeau in his grave must have been measurable on the Richter scale, and I doubt that this message is in any way communicated in the rest of the country.

The ultimate doublespeak award, however, has to go to the Conservatives again, when caught out on a candidate bragging about the imminent de-funding of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. You will notice that the spokesperson said that the group could continue to be funded if it responds to the criteria set out in the mother and child health program of the government. Left unsaid: this is the program that was criticized for excluding abortion services, criticism resulting in the de-funding of a number of venerable women's organizations who had spoken up against it.

Just to be fair, some good direct messaging from the very active group decrying the theft of money from the Employment Insurance fund (pictured above) and some messaging from the Communist Party that is lost to me in the jumble of too many fonts. With serifs, no less! (For shame!)


Here, finally, I have a little criticism for everyone. Well, everyone who took part in the debates. :-P

Tories up first. A lot of promises to bring in programs in four years or so if we can afford them then. I don't know how motivated I would be by a promise for which I would have to elect the same party in another election later on. The only promise they seem determined to keep is to let the corporate and wealthy-people tax rates go down as previously planned by them. This in a time where money is short and deficits are high. And if we made it through the most recent recession in better shape than some, it is likely only because we are very small-c conservative about regulating our economy and not scrapping regulations on banks and such as would be your natural tendency.

The Liberals seem to be promising a whole lot of things that are not in the jurisdiction of the federal government, namely education and health care. Stop rolling, Pierre, we are back to invading provincial jurisdictions and buying power with money. Not everybody appreciates that.

There is a certain amount of that jurisdiction invading by the promises of the NDP, too, but what really gets my goat is how I have heard the promises delivered on the TV ads. Jack Layton telling me "I will fund more doctors and nurses" makes me nervous about the jurisdiction thing, but also about the perception that the government will be him, and not the work of a team.

The Bloc has come out for a couple of big-ticket items: compensation for the harmonization of the provincial sales tax with the GST, which Québec did at the beginning (reasonable), contributing to the building of a new Colisée in Québec City (stupid) and the replacement of the Champlain Bridge (there seems to be a non-Tory consensus on this one, but I don't think the environment of Montréal needs more cars from the south shore). The worst criticism I have (leaving aside the stupid Colisée) is the attitude about the promise of the Tories to support with loan guarantees the building of the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project. I don't get the outrage and feel a little embarrassed by it.

As an aside, I truly enjoy this message posted at the entrance to the aforementioned Champlain Bridge by the Catholic Archdiocese of Montréal as part of their annual fundraising campaign. For the linguistically challenged, it reads "Say your prayers."

We may all be doing that this time next week, even those of us who don't believe.

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